Introduction of the Lotus M250

Lotus M250 concept car

A swoopy new Lotus coupe will set the cat among the pigeons at the Frankfurt Motor Show this week as the British sports car specialist sets its sights on the Porsche home team.

Lotus plans to ruffle German feathers with a tantalising life-size concept called M250, its new 145,000 rival for the Boxster S first revealed as an artist's impression in Autocar on 5 May.

Compact, lightweight; at less than 1000kg, and with a mid-mounted 250bhp 3.0-litre V6 driving the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, the coupe promises supercar performance and startling agility.

Lotus says the new coupe will rocket from 0-60mph in under 5sec, from 0-100mph in under 1 lsec, and on to an electronically limited maximum of 155mph.

But outright performance is only half the story. The M250's light weight, compact dimensions, state-of-the-art suspension and near-perfect aerodynamic balance should guarantee it has the scintillating handling dynamics that have come to characterise the Lotus brand.

The M250 is destined to slot between the Elise and the Esprit and will hit the showrooms in early 2001.

The coupe is referred to internally as the Monaco (although its final name will probably begin with an E) and will be built on an all-new chassis that makes further advances on the high-tech bonded aluminium Elise.

While the Elise chassis is exclusively aluminium, the M250 will make - extensive structural use of bonded aluminium and carbon fibre, particularly in the front crash structure. The body is likely to feature high-tech composite build, in contrast to the relatively simple Elise's glass fibre skin.

The suspension will mirror the all-round double wishbone set-up of the Elise, but all running gear and drivetrain components will be new. That's partly a consequence of the M250's bigger dimensions, and partly because the higher power output and cornering forces generated will demand a tougher set-up.

The new coupe will have power-assisted steering and 320mm, ventilated brake discs all round with an antilock system.

The transversely mounted, normally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 engine will start life as a bought-in unit, but will required power and torque characteristics.

As yet the company refuses to say where the engine will be sourced, because a deal has not been signed.

"We're still making sure that the engine we want to use can be made to perform in exactly the way that we want," says Lotus design chief Russell Carr.

Given the increasingly amicable relationship between Lotus and General Motor, for whom Lotus will produce the Vauxhall Speester, one possibility is that the aluminium Ecotec V6 from the Vectra could provide its block as a base on which he Lotus engine specialists can work their magic. Lotus officials refuse to comment on any possible GM link.

As head of design for Lotus Cars, Carr is responsible for the M250 coupe's styling.

"Lotus doesn't have many generic styling cues apart from the oval grille," he says. "We incorporated that, but a big part of the Lotus look has always been proportion.

"Compact dimensions keep the weight down, but also help to convey the core Lotus value of agility. The car has to look nipped and tucked, and athletic," says Carr.

Part of the dynamic visual quality comes from a strong cab-forward design.

"Having a mid-mounted engine means a cab-forward design makes good packaging sense, but when we looked at cars with a strong 'wow factor', they all had an obvious sense of direction.

"We didn't want the Porsche Boxster effect where the side profile could almost be going either way. The position of the wheels is also crucial to achieving an agile, planted look of the car on the road," says Carr.

With a wheelbase of 2518mm. inside a 4137mm overall length, stubby front and rear overhangs are key to the M250's purposeful stance.

Links to the Elise and the limited-build 340R include top radiator ducts in front of the wraparound, visor-like windscreen, and the distinctive side air vents.

The central oval grille funnels air to the radiator, while the full-width lower air intake feeds the oil coolers.

The visor effect of the windscreen is carried around the sides of the car, with scissor doors featuring a distinctive upward curve into the roofline at the B-pillar. A steeply raked rear screen flows towards a back dominated by a large rear spoiler and a race car-style underbody diffuser designed to produce downforce.

The cabin is yet to be decided, but will feature Elisestyle exposed chassis sections and a wider passenger compartment with more forgiving seats. There will also be an area behind the seats to store luggage, says Carr.

The base and only model will be offered with air conditioning, central locking and electric windows, but Lotus's marketing department is planning to offer at least two specification packs. The Comfort Pack will offer extra sound deadening, more luxurious trim and convenience features such as satellite navigation mounted in the electronic instrument console.

The other will be a Racer Pack, with weight pared to the minimum, and electronic instruments offering data-logging function.

Although the standard car will have an engine cover beneath the rear glass to keep everything clean and quiet, it's likely that the Racer Pack will also allow owners to ditch the cover and add cosmetic engine parts to be exposed through the rear window in the style of the Ferrari 360.

Although the first cars to roll out of the factory will be coupes, there are also plans to market a version with a removable roof panel.

Waiting lists for the planned 3000 cars per year could become lengthy. Unlike the Elise, the M250 will be tailored to meet the regulations of all world markets.

The Frankfurt show car was constructed in five weeks from glass fibre by a team of specialists at the company's recently acquired modelling division in Coventry, while the project itself was only begun in earnest at the start of this year. Development of working prototypes is scheduled to start soon, and Carr says there are lots of design tweaks to be' done in the runup to the car's launch.

"But what you see today is pretty much how the car will a appear when it goes on sale."

Chris Rosamond